Venus best, brightest
Starry Williams beats Bartoli to win fourth Wimbledon title
By Bud Collins | July 7, 2007
LONDON -- Who has the deed for the playground called Centre Court? Will it be renamed Williamsville for the family possessing six titles, or Federersburg for the guy who has been squatting there for four years and has no intention of leaving without a fight?
The fighter who seeks to evict Roger Federer today is that highly maneuverable mass of muscle, Rafael Nadal, whose prized property is a dirt lot in Paris called Roland Garros. But Rafa would like to branch out, add a grassy parcel in southwest London by winning Wimbledon, telling Federer to take a hike.
Of course the Williams's representative this time around, the long-legged, dynamite-shooting Venus, could tell off both of them, saying that she was here first and the family ain't going to move out. Not for a year, anyway.
With one last blast, a 124-mile-per-hour serve that nearly took her adversary's head off, Venus today reclaimed the space she occupied in 2000, 2001, and 2005. Little Sister Serena, the occupant in 2002 and 2003, watched approvingly from a courtside box among 13,800 risking sunstroke while a nice French kid was felled by Venus-stroke.
Marion Bartoli's remarks after being flattened, 6-4, 6-1, in 90 minutes tell the story: "Venus play some unbelievable tennis. She reached some balls like I never see one person reach, and she would hit it harder back to me. She serve 120 miles on first serve, sometimes hurting my wrist so bad because the ball was coming so fast to me. So I really try the best, but it's not possible to beat her."
With her quirky game of hanging onto the racket with both hands for forehands and backhands, and hopping about between points, Bartoli, in white cap and overflowing black hair, enjoyed her most serious payday ($700,000, half of Venus's haul). But she took away more than that. Bartoli, ranked No. 19, had made some history by beating No. 1 Justine Henin in the semis. It was the most prominent upset here in 13 years, since No. 22 Lori McNeil knocked off the defending champ, No. 1 Steffi Graf. But that was in the first round. No lesser light ever had stopped No. 1 at the gate to the final.
A joint effort, Bartoli and No. 31 Venus put together the least likely, lowest-rated championship bout in Wimbledon annals. Sure, that was something of an illusion because Venus has had star quality since she won her first professional match as a 14-year-old in 1994. Ten years ago it was apparent at the US Open. Wearing No. 66, she cruised, unseeded, to the final, losing to No. 1 Martina Hingis.
The Williams Era had begun, and the sisters were to delight in fooling the doubters. Serena, written off, won the Australian Open this year, and said, "Nobody has more doubters than us, but that makes us work harder."
For Venus, the year, commencing at No. 48, has been a climb up and away from injuries. Today's rankings place her at No. 17. "I never stopped believing in myself," she said. "It just meant I had to work harder to get myself ready. Growing up, my parents always told us we'd win Wimbledon, be No. 1 in the world, that we'd be No. 1 and 2. It was really a positive environment that we grew up in. The way we worked was toward that, always thinking that. So when it happened it was like something I had been preparing for. I think they were geniuses to put that in our head."
Venus won the first three games, and it was clear Bartoli, 22, wasn't going to dent her. She moved Venus around as she had Henin. But the trouble was that the champ, at 6 feet 2 inches, 8 inches taller than either, was going to run down the Frenchwoman's shots that Henin couldn't.
"I just want to hit hard and harder," said Venus, but she also showed new finesse in chipping and coming in for volleys. At match point she hummed that 124-m.p.h. serve at Bartoli, a winner that the loser barely deflected. Otherwise it would have hit her, as a similar Venus missile did Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals. Dangerous woman, Ms. V.
Dangerous guy until his feet ran out of health, the young Serbian slicker, Novak Djokovic, took the first set from Nadal. But he had to quit in the third (3-6, 6-1, 4-1, default) when infected blisters cried out for relief. It had taken him almost 10 hours to beat Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis the previous two days, and his 10 little piggies didn't want to run anymore.
Federer was sharp in beating Richard Gasquet (Andy Roddick's conqueror), 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. Now on to see if he can renew his Centre Court deed by avoiding the covetous left hand of Nadal. I've got a Nadal feeling, but picking against Federer on a grass court makes as much sense as going through the Big Dig on a scooter.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.